The ease and consequence of complacency
Many communities around the country lack the proactive vigilance necessary to challenge white supremacy as it happens right in their face
Yesterday evening, I attended a #Charlottesville solidarity rally in my city, knowing full well it was going to be a white moderate mess overrun with bad Grand Rapids politics and white socialists subtly whining about and dismissing IDPOL to instead focus on themselves-I MEAN-the working class. Which is precisely how it went down.
Another reason I was reluctant, however, was because I knew there was a chance we’d get any stripe of more volatile bigots aside from the peace and love centrists and hokey leftists-Hyper-Conservative Christians, “MY GUN IS MY RIGHT” types whose goals were only to antagonize or assert themselves and their authority, Trump supporters (but I repeat myself).
And, wouldn’t you know, that’s also exactly what happened.
Two armed, white male vets in full gear, one littered in tattoos of runes and a Celtic cross, were in attendance at the rally, circling the crowd, talking to reporters, and trying to get pictures with as many unwitting attendees as possible. I noticed them immediately and sent a friend, another white male, to go check them out, and a white woman ally working security with the rally. If you’re an anti-racist, you know what symbols of white identitarianism are and what they represent. And if you an anti-racist from West Michigan, you know entitled, arrogant armed white dudes in khaki fatigues with American flag patches on their arms, no matter how common place it may be, is nothing but trouble.
Within 20 minutes of us trying to scope out and quietly confront the two men the situation escalated into me and my friends and other largely young folks of color and some white folks in solidarity yelling at them to leave and yelling at the crowd to help us. “This is your chance. This is what you’re here for. Defend us. If you’re against Nazis and fascism, do something about this” I yelled.
The crowd looked at us, stupefied and stunned. One white woman had the gall to come up to me, grab my arm, and tell me “This is supposed to be a peaceful rally!” A slight socialist who helped organized the event and watched as the situation unfolded, looking the part but obviously uninitiated, pale and shaken at the escalation and the confrontation, took instead to telling us they already had the situation under control. After yelling at him again, he spirited away to the front of the rally and asked the crowd to take a vote and by a show of hands elect whether or not the men should be allowed to stay. At that point, we about lost it, and cajoled the crowd to come and support us in getting these men to leave, leading in chants and crowding around them. Police, called in by the organizers of the protest and the cousins of this type of armed white male authoritarianism, looked on and did nothing.
Eventually, the white people left to go attend their march and only a small crew of us remained. We once again told them they were not welcomed, that they were making the situation unsafe, that we knew their politics and what the tattoos one of them had on his body meant. Unwilling to out themselves, they used neutral language, said they were part of a group called “The Three Percenters”, that they served their country, they loved their country, and were there to protect everyone’s rights by practicing theirs. They also pointed to all the nice white people and even people of color that they hugged and took pictures with, getting one older Black woman to support them and say she didn’t feel unsafe with their presence like others said. I eventually just told them men I got video and photos of them and walked away in rage with my friends. Then today, I was alerted that the mutuals of this men were posting the pictures they took of themselves at the rally on Facebook, painting themselves as innocent and the true victims, as not being white supremacists.
It took one Google of “Three Percenters,” to come upon a website selling shirts with ultra white gun-owning and Islamophobic politicking slogans on them. In short, these men were white armed militia in the tradition of white armed militia of this country, in all of its white supremacist defending, white male state-defending, slave-owning, Indian killing glory.
The issue we have in my community, in this whole country, is our inability-or purposeful unwillingness-to name and identify all the behaviors, language, ideologies, politics, and policies that participate in, culminate to, upholding, support, endorse, or enact white supremacy, that a white supremacist would commit, support or believe. Even the smaller, more casual instances normalize and uphold dangerous ideologies. It biases and conditions every single person who hears and spouts them in the direction of whiteness and white supremacy. It makes them all complicit and silent when the moment actually comes to take action.
We’d like to pretend that we’d do something if we were around during those historic instances of injustice or in those moments today. But I live in West Michigan in the mid-sized city that gave us the DeVos family and is surrounded by rabid, deep red white politics. I know, first hand, just how hard many find to challenge it.
Those two men came to harass and intimidate the marginalized communities we have here and their behavior normalizes the idea that the US state is good and righteous in all his racist militaristic and police state antics and they will violently challenge the government if it considers changing that, and a “Real” American is a white, xenophobic, gun-toting, second amendment-worshiping Constitutionalism patriarchal jock who defends and protects that state at all costs. This “Guns, God and Country” climate begets the happens of yesterday evening’s rally and the events of Charlottesville in the first place.
Butwhen even willing participants at the rally who were hugging, discussing, protecting and supporting the two Three Percenters, it came down to them tokenizing and using that acceptance, hospitality and support to ignore those of us who vocalize aggressively that they were not welcomed.
Moments like this undermines the work of activists and marginalized folks in the struggle. To have people-especially white people, but including marginalized people as well-unwilling to support them and instead willing to side with or at least “hear out” these types poses a threat to us in those times that require a united front against white supremacy. Who is to say they wouldn’t continuing protecting, supporting and listening when the more overt white supremacy comes out, like so many already have? And it speaks to a larger inability to see and combat racism, because not only do we not understand it, we refuse to name it.
It is so easy to share memes, to talk the talk, to claim you’re someone who’d punch a Nazi. But yesterday I watched dozens of those types stand idly by and do and say nothing, even get mad at us for disturbing their “peace”. There has been many well-written pieces discussing the passive speculator, the complicit citizen, and we truly need to sit down and understand that until we actively do something, until we challenge the white supremacy we ingest and spit out daily, we are those very enablers and silent supporters, like the mother of James Alex Field. That inability or unwillingness to name and challenge is deadly, and makes you an active participant.